U.S. Military Cartridge Headstamp Codes
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US MILITARY CARTRIDGE HEADSTAMPS CODES
Military ammunition in the US is tracked so carefully, that it is only a matter of size that prevents the government from slapping a serial number on every round. Ammunition is identified by a lot number that tells where it was made and which batch it came from. This lot number is placed on every packing container that ammo is put in. From the Conex container that ships it, to the crate that it is transported in, to the stenciled waterproof can that holds the cardboard boxes or cloth bandoleers that are also stamped with the lot number. It all boils down to the cartridge, specifically, the cartridge case and its identification.
There are times, for whatever reason, when it is useful to know the source of a particular cartridge. All US military ammunition (excluding commercially manufactured ammunition purchased for Federal use) is headstamped with the year of manufacture and the factory where it was made. Sometimes this is a government arsenal like Frankford or what is called a GOCO (Government Owned, Contractor Operated) plant. WCC is commonly encountered on .45, 9mm and .38 Special ammo, but some such as RA 41 Z 300 can be confusing (WCC of course is Western; RA 41 Z 300 is Remington Arms .30-'06 manufactured in 1941 as part of a
British contract. The Z is actually a sideways N indicating the round was loaded with nitrocellulose rather than cordite).
Aside from ammunition for our own military, this country manufactured and distributed millions of rounds in 'non-US' military calibers. RA 41 Z 300 is a good example of foreign ammunition made under the direction of the US military. Some other examples would be 8mm Mauser, 9mm Luger, 7.62mmR 'Russian', .455 Webley, 7.62x39mm, etc. This ammunition can usually be identified by the headstamp, although sometimes the case may have been marked with a headstamp indicating 'unknown' manufacture or be in an alphabet other than our own: hence, we do not recognize it. After all, very few of us would recognize the WCC mark if it was in Cyrillic or Chinese! The alternate way of identification,
unfortunately, involves a bit of destructive examination. If you have a foreign round but its boxer primed, the odds are good (not great, but good) that it was made in the US.
Sometimes it can be quite fascinating to find that a company that has nothing to do with firearms or ammo, once made ammunition. Just as we get a kick out of Smith-Corona Springfields or Rockola carbines, equally amusing is Chrysler .45
Occasionally, brass relating to a military ammunition experimental project slips out the door and causes problems. Some years ago the government was working on a program called SCAMP.
The SCAMP project was meant to produce vast volumes of ammo in a very short time. It didn't work because the process for making the brass case is already done at the best speed. They found that by trying to accelerate brass production, they were producing brass that would not stand up to the pressures of firing. This SCAMP brass was sold for scrap, and eventually worked its way
into the reloading food chain. How do you identify this brass? It
carried a unique headstamp xxxxxxxxxxxx
FA 57 MATCH is another example of a headstamp saving us from grief. FA 57 MATCH ammo was made by a new process that reduced the number of drawing steps from 4 to 2. A result was the casehead was unusually soft. The pressures of firing would cause the primer pocket to expand and make it difficult to reload safely. For this reason FA 57 MATCH cases should not be reloaded. SCAMP and the FA 57 MATCH are rare occurrences of headstamp ID preventing serious problems. Generally, we are curious about a headstamp because we found an unfamiliar one. I've gathered some US military headstamps below. Some are quite common and some are severely rare.
There are several other sources, many quite obscure, who normally would not have made ammunition, if not for the immediate need at the time. When WW2 rolled around, the US had enough sources for ammunition. During WW1 seemingly anyone who could draw brass got into the act, hence some truly very odd headstamps from that era.
Certain specialty ammo was procured through 'non traditional' manufacturers and, given the nature of the groups needing such ammo, the identification will not come to light any time in the near future.
AN Twin Cities Ordnance Plant, Minneapolis, Minn - See Note #1
AO Allegany Ordnance Plant
BN St. Louis Ordnance Plant, St. Louis, MO - See Note #1
CN Lake City Ordnance Plant, Independence, MO - See Note #1
DAL Dominion Arsenal, Lindsay, Ontario, Canada - Under contract
to US during WW1
DAQ Dominion Arsenal, Canada - Under contract to US (usually .50BMG)
DEN Denver Ordnance Plant, Denver,CO
DM Des Moines Ordnance Plant, Des Moines, 10
EC Evansville Ordnance Plant, Evansville, Indiana
(The Chrysler operated Evansville Ordnance Plant consisted of 2 factories on opposite sides of Evansville. The main Plant coded its ammunition as indicated, but the other factory, the former Sunbeam Electric plant, made only .45 auto cases, first in brass, and then later in steel (I have samples dated 1943 in steel). Their cases were headstamped EC S and were trucked across
town for loading at the EC plant).
EC S Evansville Ordnance Plant - Sunbeam Electric, Evansville,
Indiana (See EC)
EW Eau Claire Ordnance Plant, Eau Claire, Wisc
FA (the classic) Frankford Arsenal, Philidelphia, PA
FC Federal Cartridge Co.
FCC Federal Cartridge Co.
KS Allegany Ordnance Plant, operated by Kellystone Tire Co.,
LC Lake City Ordnance Plant, Independence, MO
LM Lowell Ordnance Plant, Mass.
M Milwaukee Ordnance Plant, Wisconsin
NC National Brass & Copper Tube Co., Hastings, NY
PC Peters Cartridge Co., Ohio
PCC Peters Cartridge Co., Ohio
PC 1940 Peters Cartridge Co., Ohio for British Contract
RA Remington Arms Company, Bridgeport, Conn
RA H Remington Arms Company, Hoboken, New Jersey
REM Remington Arms Company, Bridgeport, Conn
SL St. Louis Ordnance Plant, St. Louis, MO
TW Twin Cities Ordnance Plant, Minneapolis, Minn
UT Utah Ordnance Plant, Salt Lake City, UT
U Utah Ordnance Plant, Salt Lake City, UT
W Western Cartridge Company, East Alton, Ill.
VC Verdun Arsenal, Canada - Under contract to US
WC Western Cartridge Company, East Alton, Ill.
WCC Western Cartridge Company, East Alton, Ill.
WRA Winchester Repeating Arms Co., New Haven, Conn
WSL 30 Winchester Repeating Arms Co., New Haven, Conn (.30
(Somewhat rare, this was the unofficial name of the .30 carbine round. Winchester made up the original military test ammo and headstamped it after their line of autoloading rifles, thus WSL .30)
<Oriental> Western Cartridge Company, East Alton, 111. - 8mm
(Believe it or not, as part of the US effort to arm ANYBODY who was fighting the Germans or Japanese, WCC in 1942-1944 produced 7.92x57mm ammo for the Chinese. This ammo is identified by the FMJ spitzer bullet and Boxer primer. The headstamp contains 3 elements. 9 o'clock position is 2 chinese characters stacked over each other. Top charachter looks like a capital L with a small horizontal bar through it, not unlike a letter L over stamped with a letter T . 6 o'clock position is year; either 42, 43 or 44. 3 o'clock position has another chinese character. 12 o'clockposition is empty.)
blank Lake City Ordnance Plant, Independence, MO - 7.62x39mm
(The Lake City Ordnance Plant produced 'sterile' (unmarked) M43 7.62x39mm ammo for use by American personnel and Allies during the Viet Nam War. This ammo differed from the usual military brass in this caliber during that period, as it was Boxer primed.
Until about 7-10 years ago, this ammo was the only source of reloadable AK/SKS ammo in the US. See note on 'sterile ammo').
Aside from the usual headtsamp with the manufacturers code and year, we sometimes come across cases that have additional markings.........
MATCH Assorted Arsenals
This is found on militray brass used in making ammunition for competitive shooting events. Match ammo is loaded to a higher standard and tends to shoot better than standard ammo. A somewhat more ominous note is that the MATCH ammo, because of its accuracy, is frequently used in sniper rifles.
N M Assorted Arsenals
NM stand for National Match and is on lots of ammunition made for use at the annual Camp Perry meets. Same as MATCH.
-R Frankford Arsenal, Philidelphia, PA
This is usually found on .30-'06 ammo loaded with wooden bullets and BOXER primed cases. The headstamp will read FA 22-R. This is often mistaken for a blank round. It is, in fact, a lot of 35,000 rounds made for training troops in using the French Viven-Bessiere (VB) rifle grenade. The VB grenade was fired from a cup launcher that fitted onto the barrel of a M1903 Springfield. It had a hole bored through it that lined up with the rifle bore. The idea was that a round fired would have the bullet pass harmlessly through the grenades bore and the gases behind the bullet would launch the grenade. The wooden bullets were for use on short grenade ranges where ball ammo dropping from the skies would bother the neighbors. The bullet, by the way, is described as CAL. .30, V.B. GRENADE PRACTICE CARTRIDGE, MODEL 1921'. The R indicated that the casehead had undergone a special annealing process to make it harder than standard Service
FA 30 R Frankford Arsenal, Philidelphia, PA
This is the exception to the rule about primers. In the 1930's,
tests were being done at Frankford Arsenal to find a noncorrosive primer that was suitable for machinegun use. Part of the development included a small lot of BERDAN primed cases with specially annealed caseheads that would ease extraction. The caseheads were stamped with a letter R to indicate that the
casehead had undergone a special annealing process to make it harder than standard Service ammo.This round, because of the headstamp, could easily be mistaken for a VB launching round. A quick check of the primer would set things straight.
VB Frankford Arsenal, Philidelphia, PA
Example: FA 22 VB. Same as -R
US FA 1906-56 with two <ordnance logos>
Frankford Arsenal, Philidelphia, PA
In 1956, Frankford Arsenal produced a very limited run of dummy ammo commemorating the 50th anniversary of the .30-'06 cartridge. This commemorative dummy ammo had a chromium plated case and unique headstamp. It is a rarely encountered headstamp.
Note #1 - Welcome to the world of deniability. In this case, millions of rounds of .30-'06 military ammo was produced in 1953 that was headstamped AN,BN or CN followed by 40 and a single digit and possesed a red laquer seal around the primer. Although there is no official description of this ammo (it is labelled
'unknown' in the declassified Small-Caliber Ammunition Identification Guide (U) Volume 1 (DST-1160G-514-81-Vol1) and other government sources) collectors speculate that the ammo was made by the arsenals listed and was for clandestine operations.
Given the time period (Korea/Communism) and the weapons (M1 Garand, BAR, M1919) and the fact that the US did run some ops in the SE Asian quarter during the Cold War as well as equipping lots of 'friendlies' to work behind the lines........
'Sterile ammo'. The words conjure up images of secret policeman investigating an assination and puzzling over the only evidence, an unidentifiable cartridge case. No doubt, sterile ammo may be used for that, although any police/intelligence unit worth the name is going to be able to figure out the origin of ammunition; its just a matter of time and resources, and thats the real point behind sterile ammo. Maybe the KGB will know where it came from,
but some newspaper reporter or travelling congressman won't. Some of the more mundane uses for sterile ammo are: avoiding sanctions against shipping arms to a country, avoiding political policy that prevents helping insurgents (US aid to contras for example), concealing the amount of involvement in another country, etc.
One may notice that on military cases from before WW1, the month as well as year and maker were stamped on the case. 4 10 FA would mean April 1910 Frankford Arsenal. In June 1917, all producers were ordered to stop stamping the month. The manufacturers had dies on hand through the latter part of 1917, and it wasn't until 1918 that ammunition started to appear without the month
Occasionally a .30-06 case turns up that seems to be blackened and no amount of cleaning will make it shine. The reason is simple. It was made blackened. Before tracer ammo was identified by bullet tip color, it was identified by having a blackened case. This applied to US Model 1917, 1923 and 1924 tracer ammo. This practice of blackening the case was discontinued in 1930.
Up until WW1 shooting clubs could return their fired brass to be reloaded at a government arsenal. Reloaded brass was marked with a line across the headstamp to indicate that the brass had been reloaded (reloaded brass was not considered fit for certain services like aircraft machineguns, and had to be identified in
some way). The practice of reloading shooting club ammunition was discontinued around WW1.
In 1943, as production was getting into full swing, all energies were devoted towards war production. Rather than take the time and material to make new headstamp dies for 1944, most makers simply ground the number 3 off the old dies. SL 43 went on to become SL 4 (indicating 1944).
There are several other sources, many quite obscure, who normally would not have made ammunition, if not for the immediate need at the time. When WW2 rolled around, the US had enough sources for ammunition. During WW1 seemingly anyone who could draw brass got into the act, hence some truly very odd headstamps from that era. Certain specialty ammo was procured through 'non
traditional' manufacturers and, given the nature of the groups needing such ammo, the identification will not come to light any time in the near future. If you have an unusual military headstamp that you need identified, feel free to send me e-mail.
THIS IS NOT A FINISHED PIECE NY ANY MEANS. ACTUALLY, THIS IS A DRAFT. I STILL HAVE SEVERAL SOURCES TO CHECK OUT AND SEVERAL PIECES THAT NEED TO BE IDENTIFIED. ILL DROP THE UPDATED COPY OFF IN A COUPLE MONTHS, WHEN ITS WORTH ADDING TO. IN THE MEANTIME,
THIS COPY IS CURRENT THROUGH 8APRIL93.
Original material by:
Court Information Services Co., Inc. Weapons Research Division
340 Brooks Missoula, Montana, USA 59801-5017 406-721-0232 FAX